Friday, March 21, 2014

You Speak Viking!

by Susanne "a bit Danish" Dietze

Look around, and chances are, you’ll see a Viking or two—the second season of Vikings is showing right now on the History Channel. Or perhaps you've seen the article in March's Smithsonian Magazine, which focuses on "the bad boys of the North" after years of scholarship focused on their gentler natures.
 Nice "gentler nature" on that bloody blade there, Ragnar!
What do Vikings have to do with how we speak? Well, let's go back 1200 years when the Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, and Gauls set sail across the Baltic Sea searching for plunder and slaves. In 793, they first raided England.
Contemporary representation from 9th or 10th century
I’m 1/8th Danish, so I’ve always wondered if I have a bit of Viking in me. Actually, some of the other 7/8ths may be Viking, too, considering how many Nordic invaders assimilated into Britain.

Perhaps because Scandinavian resources were stretched, many Nordic seafarers settled in lands they’d previously invaded. It turns out, they didn’t just incorporate themselves into their new cultures: they also influenced them.

Nowhere is this more apparent in our modern culture than in our language. You might be surprised by how many loanwords English inherited from Old Norse.

Such basic verbs as are, talk, get, guess, give, die, tip, wag, scowl, rap, box, blab, jabber, irk, slaughter, ransack, and rock (as in rock a cradle) are all from Old Norse. 

Here are a few more vocabulary words that came with the Vikings:

  • anger
  • bairn (child)
  • bag
  • berserk
  • big
  • bug
  • bylaw
  • cake
  • club
  • crook (hook shaped weapon or tool)
  • daughter
  • dregs
  • egg (as in to “egg someone on”)
  • fellow
  • fog
  • flush (to blush)
  • freckle
  • gift
  • glove
  • guest
  • happy
  • heathen
  • hell (Hel is the ruler of the underworld in Norse mythology)
  • husband
  • ken (to know)
  • knife
  • low, lowly
  • mistake
  • oaf
  • outlaw
  • ransack
  • rape (ick--little wonder this word was associated with Viking raids.)
  • root
  • saga
  • seat
  • skull
  • sky
  • Thursday (Thor's Day. Friday is possibly Old Norse, too, for the goddess Freja, but it could also be Old English, honoring the goddess Frigg. Most of the days of the week honor pagan gods.)
  • though
  • trust
  • ugly
  • wicker
  • window (wind-eye)
  • wing
  • wrong
  • Yule (jul, a winter feast, and the origin of the Yule log)

There are dozens more. Are you surprised by any of these words? Do you find etymology interesting?


 Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others to the glory of God. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos. She won first place in the Historical category of the 2011-2012 Phoenix Rattler, and her work has finaled in the Genesis, Gotcha!, and Touched By Love Contests. Susanne is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. You can visit her on her website,

* {{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the US.


  1. Thanks, Susie. I've watched the tv show about the Vikings a couple times now and am not sure how I feel about it. I keep looking for Kirk Douglas with the patch over his eye - after the raven pecks it out, of course. I watched it as a kid and it's still what I think of whenever I hear/see the word, Viking.

    1. The show is quite violent, isn't it? I knew little about the Vikings, and would like to know more about how Scandinavians lived (outside of Viking raids!). Thanks for checking out the post.

  2. Cake? That one surprises me. Who knew? This is really cool, Susie! I'm glad you shared this.

    1. Yep, even cake. Pretty interesting how these are such common words. The History of the English language was a fun college course for me!

  3. That's a fine list, Susie. My favorite would have to be berserk! I agree, any of us with British ancestry have a smidge of Viking somewhere. (possibly Moor, too, so thankfully we have some nice variety there!). I don't have cable so I've missed any Vikings, but I believe I can watch it on Amazon Prime. What I'd like to know is the significance to those funny hats they wear :)

    1. Alas, no hats in the show that I can recall. But they do shave parts of their heads and tattoo their scalps. Well, some of them do. Ragnar does.

      Let's just say I'm glad I didn't live then.


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